Becoming One of Us

by Tad Crawford

The four black bears came at night. I woke to the sound of huffing and grunting and a pungent scent like hay drying in a barn but much stronger. Propping myself on my elbows, I managed to open my eyes and saw the bears prowling around my room.

"What's going on?" I demanded.

"Do you always sleep with the lights on?" asked one of the smaller bears.

"Scared of the dark?" jeered another who, as far as I could tell, looked exactly like the first.

"Who let you in?"

"You left a key for us," said the first, "don't you remember?"

"That's ridiculous." I sat upright. "I didn't leave keys for anybody."

"Then how did we get in?" he asked.

No answer came to mind, which didn't mean that he was right. I had been in a deep sleep and hadn't really awakened yet.

One of them sniffed at my foot, then licked it, and I jerked away.

"Cut it out."

"Did he say, 'Cut it off?'" asked the second bear in his jeering tone.

"Mind your manners," said one of the larger bears. I could tell from the timbre of the voice and the gentleness of the admonition that she was the mother of the two smaller bears.

The biggest bear, he must have weighed six hundred pounds, stood up on his hind legs. Obviously this was the father, so my visitors were not a sleuth of random bears but a family.

"It's a matter of mutual obligation," the huge bear said in a deep, gravelly voice.

"Whose mutual obligation?" I asked.

"Yours and ours."

"What obligations can we possibly have? I don't even know you."

The mother bear put a large paw on my leg to hold me in place.

"What are you doing?" I asked her.

"We have to eat you," the father bear replied.

"Eat me?"

"Yes."

I squirmed as more paws pressed me down on the mattress. A tongue touched wetly against my foot and I felt the scraping of the sharp points of teeth.

"Why?" I asked, suddenly awake in a way I had never been before. I couldn't believe what he was saying, yet here they were in my bedroom.

"We're famished." His dark eyes had a mournful look.

"You don't look famished," I answered, "From the size of you, you've been eating plenty."

"We really have no choice."

"You do have a choice." I pleaded, "Look in my refrigerator. Eat what's there."

"We already looked," said one of the smaller bears. "Who can live on a few bottles of beer and a jar of pickles?"

I felt teeth like a vise closing on my foot. I tried to shake free, but I couldn't move. My heart leapt in my chest. Then the teeth closed and a terrible pain shot up my leg. I raised my head just enough to see blood pouring from my ankle while both of the small bears chewed on my severed foot.

"Stop," I screamed, "It's not too late. You can leave and I'll go to a hospital. I'll say I had an accident. I won't tell anybody."

"Shut up," one of the small bears said in a disrespectful tone.

"That was bony," complained the other small bear as he yanked at the flesh of my right arm. I could feel the furrows left by his teeth and the wetness of my blood pouring forth. Other jaws ripped a chunk from my left thigh and more blood pooled underneath me.

"I don't want to die," I whimpered.

"Don't think of it as dying," the father bear said with an encouraging tone, "Think of it as becoming one of us. Your flesh will nurture us. You'll become part of us."

"I don't want to be a bear."

"And we will become more human."

"But you're bears," I screamed in confusion and pain.

"Better to say that we're not fully bears," he replied, "and you're not fully human."

"But you'll be alive and I won't."

"Don't be so literal," one of the smaller bears said as he licked rivulets of blood from his dark lips.

"At least let me be cooked," I pleaded, hoping for any delay.

"You think you're the only one making a sacrifice?" asked the smaller bear. "You think we like eating people, cooked or otherwise? My mealtime favorites are berries, herbs and grasses, insects, and maybe the occasional rat or rabbit."

To be devoured piece by piece flooded me with terror. It would be better to be already dead, not living in the expectation of further torment. I was about to reply when powerful jaws clamped on my femur and ripped my leg away from the trunk of my body. The spurting blood sprayed bright red droplets all over the white walls and ceiling.

"Forgive us," said the largest bear.

A tongue licked my cheek, teeth touched against my fleshy stomach.

Soon I would have no face and my entrails would be spread across the carpeting. I must go into shock at last, because the pain begins to lessen. Now I'm floating near the ceiling of my room. Beneath me the bears are gnawing on my remains. It's peaceful here, and I'm not troubled by the fleeting thought that there could have been more to my life. I might have achieved more in my career. I might have been a far better husband. If I could have done things like that, I might have opened the fridge and poured tall glasses of golden beer to pass from paw to paw, wrestled the bears to exhaustion, demanded back my keys, or asked for their forgiveness for reasons I can't quite bring to mind. In any event, I'm no longer worried about the body that once contained me. I'm thankful that it served me well, thankful for that extra role of flesh around my middle that will help relieve their terrible hunger. I don't understand the bears, but the beauty of it is that I no longer have to.

 


Tad Crawford's fiction has appeared in venues such as Confrontation, Central Park, and Words. He admires the free play of imagination and enjoys the writing of authors like Franz Kafka, Haruki Murakami, and Samuel Beckett. Author of the nonfiction book The Secret Life of Money: How Money Can Be Food for the Soul, he is the founder and publisher for Allworth Press in New York City.